Jones’ pilgrimage to Naples

We’ve been making Neapolitan pizzas for four and a half years now, but only last week did we finally make the trip to Naples to try pizzas in the city they were created. We did some homework before going and made a shortlist of pizzerias that we wanted to try, however, on arrival in Naples (possibly Europe’s most mental city by the way) it became clear that the locals thought two restaurants in particular were the best, namely Pizzeria da Michele and Sorbillo.

We visited Pizzeria da Michele first. This legendary restaurant first opened its doors in 1870 and is widely thought to be the finest pizzeria in the world. They only offer two varieties of pizza, Margherita & Marinara, that’s it. The restaurant is very basic, with tables that reminded me of a school canteen. We were lucky and managed to walk straight in, but I understand that it’s normal to wait for over an hour for a table here. We decided to share a Margherita so we still had room to try Sorbillo later on.

naples-2
Naples, Pizzeria Da Michele

When the pizza arrived at our table we were both so ridiculously excited to try a genuine Da Michele pizza. We’ve spent the last 4.5 years trying to achieve pizza perfection so coming face to face with potentially the world’s finest pizza was quite a big deal for us! The first thing that we noticed was that they really weren’t afraid to char the dough. The cornicione (crust for everyone who isn’t a massive pizza geek) was beautifully speckled with the trade mark “leopard spots” that are a defining characteristic of this type of pizza. What was more interesting though was the base of the pizza, which was really charred. We have been reluctant to allow ours to char this much but we can now say with confidence that we should be running our ovens a touch hotter.  Secondly, this pizza was incredibly soft. It was massive (around 14”) but one person could easily eat it because it was so light. We have really improved our texture this year but we still haven’t achieved this level of softness. Eating this pizza reminded me of eating a thick pancake because it was so soft, amazing. We know how we can improve the softness of our dough, it’s going to take some investment in new equipment but if it means we can produce pizzas like this then it will be totally worth it. The tomato sauce was so delicate and sweet tasting. This is an area where I think we can improve also, we may need to change brand of tomatoes to achieve a similar result. Overall, I can honestly say that Da Michele lived up to the hype. The pizza was stunning.

Later in the evening we went to try Sorbillo. This restaurant came highly recommended by our taxi driver and accommodation provider, so we were really excited to see if it could be better than DaMichele. We arrived at the restaurant at around 8pm which was clearly prime time. There was a massive queue outside and a really stressed looking bloke stood by the doors clutching a clipboard. We had to leave our name with him and join the rest of the gang in the street. Every 5 minutes or so a muffled voice shouted out a few names via a speaker on the street and a couple of groups would walk in. We received the call of “Jones!” after about 45 minutes. This restaurant was very different to Da Michele. The décor was modern, with artworks on the walls and funky shaped tables. We were seated on a curved bench which was shared with at least 10 others. The menu was huge, with at least 20 pizzas on offer, some of which contained 5 or 6 toppings. Quite a contrast to Da Michele with their 2 pizza menu. We ordered a Margherita and asked the waiter to bring his recommendation which ended up being basil pesto, mozzarella and cherry tomatoes.

naples
Naples

Just as in Da Michele the pizzas were wonderfully soft. This may be the characteristic that we’re going to strive for the most going forward. The leopard print charring was evident, but not as obvious as in Da Michele. The crust had a slightly more even golden colour with darker charred spots. The base of the pizza was a lighter shade, with less charring. This means that their pizzas were spending a little longer in the oven at a slightly lower temperature. We agreed that we preferred the intense heat & charring of Da Michele so we’ll stick to our plan of increasing the heat of our ovens slightly.

The pizzas in Sorbillo were rolled out very thinly in comparison to Da Michele. We can’t be sure that this was intentional as dough can be weaker on some days than others due to the weather etc. but we both agreed that we preferred the slightly thicker base in Da Michele. Both restaurants had lovely thicker crusts, but not as puffy as we thought they might be.

Visiting these pizzerias was fascinating for us. We know how Neapolitan pizzas should be made of course, but there is always more to learn, particularly from these masters. One of the biggest things we’ve taken away from Naples is that the best pizzerias produce incredibly soft pizzas.

The pizzerias in Naples are really busy. This is in part because they are making excellent pizzas, but it can’t be ignored that they offer excellent value for money. A Margherita costs approximately £4 and tend to be around 14 inches in diameter. The service is also quick and un-fussy.

We flew to Naples via Rome where we had a chance to eat even more pizza! Considering it is only a hour and forty minute train ride to Naples, the pizzas in Rome were very different (and no where near as nice in our opinion!).

rome
Rome.. Pizzas are very different here!

We’re happy with how our pizzas compared to the great pizzerias of Naples. Obviously they’re not quite up to that standard yet, but we feel as though on a good day they’re not far off. We’ve seen how the very best produce theirs which will help us to guide our product towards a higher standard. The changes we need to make aren’t huge, but as anyone who specialises in anything knows, it’s the fine details that make a big difference.

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